The Weekend’s Television: Martina Cole's The Take, Sat, Sky1
James May on the Moon, Sun, BBC2
Monday 22 June 2009
“You think too much Jimmy... that’s your problem,” said Freddie, the groggy sociopath at the centre of Martina Cole’s The Take. It isn’t Freddie’s problem, to put it mildly.
Freddie has impulse-control issues, which are considerably aggravated by the fact that absolutely none of Freddie’s impulses are nice. He’s not the kind of man who’ll bring home a box of chocolates to his wife on the spur of the moment. He’s the kind who’ll twist a broken bottle into your carotid artery because he’s feeling that way out.
And to make matters harder for Freddie’s colleagues and friends it’s not always easy to tell when he’s about to go off on one. We learn pretty quickly, on the other hand. If Freddie shows up unexpectedly on your doorstep, a smile playing around his bruised lips and a little gift in his hand,then you can be pretty sure that things are just about to turn ugly.
Take Mickey, for instance, a former associate of Freddie’s who ends up with his head pushed through the screen of his television. Or Freddie’s dad, who foolishly relaxes his guard after Freddie brings round a bottle of champagne, and ends up being reduced to a vegetable with a garden trowel.
A slightly tricky balancing act is required of Sky1’s new gangster drama here. I take it there will be people out there who regard Freddie as an admirable role model. But the rest of us are going to require a pretty hefty counterweight to prevent the repugnant gravity of his character from tipping us towards the off switch.
This is a man, after all, who has effectively abandoned his children, will murder on a whim and – on the evidence of three couplings so far – only has sex face to face with a woman if he’s raping her. He’s not easy to warm to, frankly. The counterweight comes in the form of Tom Hardy’s performance – an actor who is rarely less than arresting but is excellent here – lethally fascinating as he dances between woozy bonhomie and murderous rage.
It also comes in the form of Jimmy, a brainy quiet type who prefers a more cerebral approach to crime. Jimmy isn’t exactly a beacon of moral probity himself, but he does draw the line at burning a security guard alive and in this context that small flicker of humanity is the best we’re going to get.
The essential plot – as in most gangster movies – is corporate politics. Freddie wants to climb the career ladder but despite being a protégé of the current boss Ozzy (and despite the ruthless efficiency with which he creates spaces on the rungs immediately above him), he finds that his mousier friend has been promoted first.
Home life is no consolation either. His wife Jackie, distressed by Freddie’s liberal interpretation of the marriage vows, spent most of the first episode pregnant and doing her level best to get her amniotic fluid to at least 20 per cent proof by volume.
Neil Biswas’s script is mostly functional – a lot of lairy threatening and swearing – but it does squeeze in the odd nice touch of bathos: “He’s taken everything,” wailed Freddie’s mum when his father leaves her for a younger woman.“Even the Flymo!”
And the direction works very hard to persuade you that the drama belongs in the company of more august examples of underworld epic, with at least one prime example of what you might call the Godfather Intercut, contrasting a familiar marker-post of blameless family life with vicious bloodletting.
As Freddie’s wife is giving birth to his son, Freddie is round at his dad’s taking his eye out with a gardening implement, allowing the pangs of labour to be seamlessly spliced with the sort of scream you give if you discover your sugar daddy lying in the shed in a pool of blood. Goodness, it was blokey yesterday, what with the Grand Prix during the day and Top Gear back in the evening and Empire of Cricket and James May on the Moon.
Envy makes it difficult for me to dispassionately review the latter, since May not only got to meet three of the small handful of men who’ve actually walked on the moon but also took a flight to the edge of space in a U2 spy-plane. It was all right, I suppose, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it should have been me.
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